My Cost of Living in Thailand – 2017

January 4, 2018

The tl;dr version: 1) Cost living of depends on how one lives (duh), so explanation below*, 2) Many costs are steady across the last 5 years, except 3) Spikes are explained, 4) I’m living within my means, 5) Making this public motivates me to do it right. Glad I did. This year I realized I hadn’t recorded half of the health insurance payments for 2016, and 6) I like playing with spreadsheets.

*Actually, here is the long explanation from 2015. How spending has differed since then is described below the table.

Spending 2013-2017 v3 - 120Pct


Travel increased both in duration and cost per day in ’16 and ’17 because I wanted to, I could, and I’m not getting any younger.

US income taxes dropped because I didn’t follow the same Roth IRA conversion strategy used in ’15 and ’16. Wanted to see what could happen to income taxes in ’18. That paid off. In ’17 converted half the previous years amount so the taxes wouldn’t matter much.

I changed format from previous cost of living posts, separating medical care and medical insurance costs for the last five years. Medical care costs jumped in 2016. Six months of post heart attack meds and follow-up testing will do that. 2017 added a Cardiac MRI, 2 pairs eyeglass lenses, removal of a broad, deep, black, benign mole, and treatment of a grade II sprained ankle.

Eating out spending dropped for the same reason eating at home increased: to cut down on the palm oil and coconut milk in my diet.

My concept of ‘cost of living’ changed while doing this usual year end financial review. I’ve lived off my taxable (non-IRA) account through ’16. Spending was cost of living.

Since retiring, the only withdrawals from my IRA were conversions from Traditional IRA to Roth IRA in ’15, ’16 and ’17. That’s not spending.

Next year IRA withdrawals will be to fund the accounts from which I spend. Going forward, managing how much is left in the IRA will be the most important part of my finances. I think I’ll call the withdrawals Cost of Retirement. Spending minus Social Security will be my Cost of Living.





Adventures in Smartphone Shopping

October 12, 2017

My electronic retail experiences in Thailand have usually had some combination of random weirdness, salespeople lying blatantly, after carefully checking the features of a display model being told there is no more stock except the display model, etc. I wasn’t looking forward to buying a new phone.

On day 2 in Portugal, I managed to step on the earbud cord while moving self and phone from chair to bed. Earbuds survived, the headphone jack hasn’t worked since. Knew the phone I wanted was current version of my mute 2 year old phone. Knew I wanted a warranty valid in Thailand, so waited until jet lag wore off before buying one in Hua Hin.

Samsung made it difficult (with tongue in cheek). Where once there was one model, now there are four variations: Core, Prime, Pro, Plus (say that fast 3 times). Samsung’s website price for the Pro was 10,900 THB (~330 USD), but a promotion for the month of October dropped it to 9,900 (~300 USD). All the stores I checked had the 10,900 price, except 1 of the 2 official Samsung stores. I was wary because the 9,900 price was on a sign at the shop entrance, while the display model was the only one that didn’t have a price tag. First thing I did was ask. Answer was 8,900 (~270 USD). I didn’t understand. Didn’t have to because I’ve long since learned the meaning of the common expat one size fits all explanatory phrase: ‘This is Thailand’.

2016: What a Wonderful Year

January 2, 2017

When deciding when to begin early retirement, a major concern was not running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. The flip side was running out of time, physical or mental capabilities with enough bank left to have done or bought things earlier if I hadn’t been concerned about running out of money before taking the long dirt nap. That’s circular. No worries. It motivates me to just get on with things.

The best part of last year was my heart attack wasn’t fatal. The adventure started at 2:30 one morning in June with the cliche of waking up with my chest in a vice. Banged on a neighbors door for a ride to the ER where they stabilized me before a 135 mile lights and siren ambulance ride to Bangkok. Ever been wheeled straight from an ambulance into a surgery where a squad started working the moment the gurney came to a stop? It was both a major relief and, upon later reflection, concern why they needed so many people. Five subsequent nights in the Cardiac ICU gave me a clue.


They discharged me on the 11th day with instructions that included exercise. I obeyed.

Ten weeks later it was no big deal to do 3 miles in an hour without rests. That’s been my personal standard for minimum level of fitness for decades. That got boring, so I shortened the walk and added trips up, across, down and back over a pedestrian bridge. Built up to 20 minutes with 2 up and downs on each end before crossing. Yesterday for the first time since June, I did the hill I’ve always used before travel to get in shape for – wait for it – stairs and hills. My rule of thumb has been I’m ready when 5 laps is an effort but not unpleasant or a problem. Yesterday 3 laps met that standard. Could have done more but was concerned about sore muscles (my glutes hurt today). I’ll be ready for the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb(1) in March.

As for the money end of things, it’s great. The Social Security administration deposited my first benefit payment 3 days ago. IRA balance is 117% higher than retirement at the end of 2008 during the global economic shit storm. The non-IRA account, which had to last until I could access the IRA without penalty in 2014, should last until the end of 2017, despite some spending this year on expensive stuff I didn’t need. Details in the upcoming annual Cost of Living post.

Haven’t looked at my bucket list for years. Now seems like a good time.

(1) Top of the bridge is 440 feet above the water. Said to be a nice view. It would be fun. Then I saw the price. IS THIS SOME KIND OF JOKE?! Well… I could afford it. Then I realized it’s high adventure for some people, and thus worth it. I’ve been to 11,800′ in a hang glider, so the price-to-wow ratio of the bridge climb is unappealing. Even without that experience, I doubt I would have done it because cameras are not allowed.


D’oh! Almost Couldn’t Extend My Thai Visa

August 5, 2016

Expat forums have cautionary tales by those whose mistake preventing them from extending their retirement visa* for another year. The usual mistake is to leave the country without a re-entry permit. The other way? Forget until after the 7 day grace period.

I remembered it was coming due, and the date (10 days from now) I could first request an extension. But I did forget to keep an eye on my Thai bank balance. One way to meet the visa’s financial requirement is a Thai bank account where the balance never drops below 800,000 THB (~$23,000) in the 3 months before applying to extend.

As always, I’d set calendar alerts up the wazoo before and during the 3 month period. But somehow, after returning from the Spain trip, I managed to see the last few and not act.

My Thai bank sends an SMS after every ATM withdrawal, showing the amount and the new balance. Sometimes I ignore them for weeks before putting them in the account spreadsheet. Two days ago I thought I should check this… 809,237 THB. Yikes! That was close.

It was easy to fix: withdraw using ATM cards from 2 US banks, deposit into Thai bank. Repeat daily until comfortable with the excess. Next year, assuming I’m still here, my alerts will include inputting the SMSs on the day they’re received.

* Visa pedants take note: I simplified terminology and processes for readers not like you. Go back to thaivisa dot com.

It’s a nice day for a light wetting

April 15, 2016

If I only had a waterproof camera…

Yesterday in Hua Hin was the first and only day of public celebration of Songkran. Privately, Thais join their families in a celebration that involves water. Publicly, people throw it at each other. Like most expats, I did it once. Enjoyed the fun, didn’t like the malicious aggressiveness of packs of drunk young males.

This year I went out in the morning, stopping to be a target for the kids standing in front of their homes and shops while some adult kept watch over them. A few were mystified why I didn’t try to avoid, others happily flung and squirted water.

Approaching one shophouse, I could see a little girl, maybe a yard tall (I call them yardlings), while near her was a bucket with a lump. That lump was a boy’s head. He was small enough to sit in a bucket that came up to just below his shoulders, in water up to his ribs. Armed with a bowl about 4 inches across, he was so excited his first throw missed. I moved closer. Frantic now, his second effort was in line but aimed too low. I squatted, his third fling hit home. His joyful reaction was priceless. So were the smiles on mom and dad.

My Cost of Living in Thailand – 2015

January 20, 2016

The tl;dr version: 1) Cost living of depends on how one lives (duh), so long explanation below, 2) Many costs are steady across the last 3 years, except 3) Spending spikes are explained, 4) I’m living well within my means, and 5) I like spreadsheets,

Values shown are average cost per month in US dollars at the then current exchange rate.

2015 Cost of Living for Blog

The bold values in the graph show I splurged on travel in 2013, Camera and lenses in 2014 and Income taxes in 2015. How are taxes a splurge? I made a Roth IRA conversion for 2 reason. One was my beneficiary will have more options after receiving a Roth IRA than a regular one. Shoulda also done it last year, but so it goes.

Categories with notable cost swings were Medical and Shelter (rent). Besides varying need for medical care, I changed insurance, and, of course, premiums increase with age. The higher cost of Shelter in 2013 and 2015 was from staying 3 months in Chiang Mai while still paying rent in Hua Hin.

A frequent question on expat forums is how much does it cost to live there. Including a lifestyle description with such a question usually gets better answers because the only meaningful answer depends on how one want to live. One should also ask the expats in different towns because costs may vary substantially. There is easily a 50% difference in Thailand between the cost of living in areas with non-trivial sized expat populations.

Before I retired my lifestyle included far fewer toys, gadgets, upgrades, alcohol, expensive entertainments and luxuries then my peers. Except for my splurges, such a lifestyle fits right in with many of the pension drawing single men here.

At my age, 61, medical costs add up. I’m insured by a French firm for 100% hospitalization in Thailand and 7 other SE Asia countries. Out patient care is out of pocket. For stays of less than 7 weeks* outside that area, it covers urgent care 100% both in and out-patient. Meds for 3 chronic conditions runs about $20 a month.

Hua Hin is one of the most expensive places to live a western style life in Thailand. I have a BIG furnished studio apartment with A/C and hot water. One could rent an unfurnished 2 story row house for less than I’m paying.

About 40% of meals come from one or more of the markets: Super, fresh (Thai), and the expensive place with foreign imports for those with a monkey on their back and just can’t live without Oreos, certain brands of cheese or beer, etc. The rest of the meals range from vendor stands to places frequented by those here on a golfing budget. About once a week I eat in the tourist district, usually for my favorite eggs-based breakfast.

It would have cost me much less if I’d purchased a motorbike instead of having a monthly rental. I rented because of the hassles of ownership, because I could afford to, and it allowed putting off the big hurdle of getting a license until I decide to stay here. I now have a license and know I’m not going to stay in Thailand year around, so I continue to rent.

I Run the A/C at 27C (80.6F) from one hour before going to bed until I awake. During the hottest months of the year A/C is often on at 29C (84F) in the mid to late afternoon, until it’s cooler to go outside or open the balcony and windows. Hot water for shower use is just enough to prevent initial shock during the hot months, most of the time in winter. Both of these temps are one degree lower than past years. Don’t know if the thermostat has a problem, I’m less heat tolerant, or it’s just trading money for more comfort.

Entertainment is nerdy or low cost: Photography, photo editing, learning more about both photography and photo editing, being an internet omnivore, walking on the beach, exercise, hanging out over coffee or watching sports that I’m not interested in bars while conversing with blokes who show signs of intelligent life.

28 cents between me and the finish line

January 13, 2016

I’d already waited 90+ minutes to pay the expected sum of 155 baht (~$4.27) for my motorcycle drivers license. Now, at the last step, photo lady said it was 10 baht (~$0.28) more. I believe the fee was not an official one.

The day before, the multiple choice test took about 20 minutes. That morning, the riding test took 2 minutes. The rest was 11 hours over 2 days of reviewing the English language material while 90% of the class listened and responded to the Thai instructor and watched Thai instructional videos, too much sitting, too much waiting, and trying to stay awake. Ten baht more? I would not have hesitated at 1000 baht.

Why finally get a license? Avoiding checkpoints* in Hua Hin means longer and sometimes more dangerous rides. Should I be in an accident and the police get involved, it’s one less way to be in the wrong. And who knows, there may be times when having a government issued photo ID will be useful.

* Police checkpoints for license, helmet and vehicle registration. I always have the last 2. Two hundred baht (~$5.50) fine for no license.